Policy options for Pakistan in the post US withdrawal Afghanistan

By Prof. Dr. Shaista Tabassum

Chairperson Dept. of International Relation Karachi University

Pakistan Geographical location is strategically very pivotal. It is at the South Asia region the adjacent region of which is the centre of attraction of World politics. Pakistan is at the cross road of Central Asia, a neighbor of Afghanistan, Iran and India and close to the oil rich Middle East. Pakistan’s is located in the heartland of the World.

The heartland theory was presented by Halford Mackinder in 1904 in a paper read before the Royal Geographical Society London. The crest of the paper said,” The Heartland of the World stretches from the Volga to the Yangtze and from Himalayas to the Arctic Ocean.” Outside the pivot area, in a great inner crescent are Germany, Austria, Turkey, India and China and in an outer crescent, Britain, South Africa, Australia, the US, Canada and Japan. From this geographical structure of the World geopolitics draws the conclusion that who rules east Europe commands the Heartland, who rules the Heartland commands the World Islands who rules the Word Island commands the World. Pakistan’s location is exactly what is defined by the theory as the Pivot area of the World. Some parts of Pakistan are located in the inner rim crescent of the theory. That is why geography not only shapes Pakistan’s foreign policy, but also its defense considerations and strategic outlook.

Pakistan has a longtime rival located just next door that is India. Both the states have historical rivalry. At present Indian strategy is by calling it a supporter of terrorism, diverting HR violations in Kashmir and its domestic politics, developed closed strategic relations with the US and also with the Afghan govt. Moreover India is attempting to isolate Pakistan not only in South Asia but in the World as well.  While Pakistan is following a policy of constantly engaging India in any form of dialogue by proposing many peace initiatives at the track I, II, III and IV level. It has a no tolerance policy any violation of borders will be rigidly countered by all means even the use of force is also possible. To a larger extent Pakistan’s policy proved to be successful countering Indian strategy. At the same time a combination of pragmatic foreign policy backed with credible conventional and nuclear deterrence could serve desired national security interests. While remaining strategically relevant to US, Islamabad will have to continue to cultivate good relationship with Beijing.  On internal front, Pakistan must revive her economy and achieve more national cohesion so as to offset the negative effects of Indo-US strategic convergence. It should fulfill its obligations under relevant UNSC resolutions (placing required restraints on designated entities and persons) Insist on elimination of the BLA and TTP presence from Afghanistan in the context of an Afghan political settlement.

Indian strategy has failed in Afghanistan. It is mainly because India’s mishandled domestic politics of Afghan. Indian influence has significantly reduced especially among the major political parties of Afghanistan. While the Afghan people continue to appreciate its contributions to the reconstruction and development of the country, its traditional allies who fought against the Taliban in the 1990s have distanced themselves from India. Moreover all Indian efforts to open a transit corridor to Afghanistan and Central Asia through Iran’s Chabahar port, thus bypassing Pakistan, came to a standstill because of the renewed US sanctions on Iran.

Now US wants to withdraw from Afghanistan but in a respectful manner. It would be withdrawal not surrender but Trump election campaign is driving the peace process. If the peace process timings would not align with his electoral campaign needs, it is possible that US may hurriedly wind up Afghanistan without the full settlement. AT the same time the wish list is long most importantly US wants to leave with the guarantee that civil war will not erupt the guarantee of which nobody can give. While the Taliban They agree that Afghanistan territory will not be used against US or any other country but US wants assurance which again no body can give. Talibans are not ready to give space to Ashraf Ghani’s government. Problems for the American is that the Talibans know that  Americans are desperate to withdraw and they can also push for a delay for the best bargain. Talibans will never agree for peace un-till they have get a major share in power. Share would be possible when US concessions on constitutional rights and democratic values. 

What Pakistan’s role and policy could be in this situation. Now in the endgame, the US expects Pakistan to provide another service that is it is expected that Pakistan will manage the unavoidable post war political mess in Afghanistan and will bring stability in the region in the post American withdrawal Afghanistan. This is a very serious and in fact a dangerous task which Pakistan is expected to perform. Present day challenge to Pakistan is not when and how US will withdraw rather how to bring all parties on board. The government of Pakistan must take its own decision and its own national interest. There is dire need to define our national interest not the interest of any other state. Pakistan must work against any effort of dividing Afghanistan. It is the responsibility of all the parties in the settlement that they must work to avoid any violence among stake holders. Pakistan must also take preemptive measures against Indian repulsive policy in Afghanistan, because it is expected that India would not so easily allow Pakistan to take the major share in the post Peace process Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s diplomacy must work simultaneously with the US and China, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia to prevent civil war and promote a viable political settlement in Afghanistan. A conference involving these states and major Afghan parties could be convened to draw up the broad parameters of such a settlement.

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